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Catholic Schools: Communities of faith, knowledge and service

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley         January 8, 2017

If you periodically scan my calendar in the Sooner Catholic, you might notice that I spend a lot of time visiting our Catholic schools. It’s a priority for me. Every year, I make it a point to travel to each of our 21 Catholic elementary and secondary schools around the archdiocese.

Among these, we have two high schools, 18 elementary schools and one school for children on the autistic spectrum. I am proud of each of these institutions. Each represents a shared commitment among parents, pastors, administrators, faculty and staff, the parishes and the archdiocese. In the fall, we will welcome another Catholic high school, Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School. Though not part of the archdiocesan system, it will provide a unique opportunity for more families to experience the benefit of Catholic secondary education.

From the earliest days of the Church’s history in the United States and in Oklahoma, Catholic schools have had an invaluable role in the life and mission of the Church. Much of the credit for this rich heritage is due to the religious women and men who pioneered some of our earliest Catholic schools. We celebrate this ongoing commitment and legacy annually during Catholic Schools Week, which we observe this year beginning Jan. 29.

The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2017 is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Our schools are committed to pursuing and promoting excellence in every sphere. We can achieve this, however, only if we are clear about why we exist at all. As we seek to raise standards across the board, we raise highest the standard of our faith. It is our Catholic faith that inspires our teaching and learning and moves us to serve others.

As an expression of the Church’s mission, our schools’ primary purpose is to be evangelizing communities of disciples. Catholic schools are privileged places of evangelization. Jesus Christ is proclaimed. Faith is nurtured through a close collaboration between parents, pastors and faculty. Faith is celebrated through worship and prayer. Faith is lived out in loving service to others. Faith is strengthened as it is integrated across the entire curriculum and in every facet of the educational environment, including athletics and the arts.

Here, we pursue excellence in academic instruction as well as faith formation. We do this by being authentically Catholic in our teaching and practice, but also by being inclusive of students from every social, economic and ethnic background. We welcome students of other faith traditions, but owe them an opportunity to appreciate the fullness of our Catholic faith and heritage. This is what creates the unique value of our Catholic school’s learning environment.

In order for our Catholic schools to continue to flourish, we have to strategize ways to increase our enrollment and to make Catholic schools accessible to more and more families. Our schools need a solid financial footing if they are to remain sustainable. Our schools need ways to provide tuition assistance to those who otherwise could not afford the benefits of a Catholic school education. In addition to regular tuition assistance available in parishes, we have to promote innovative initiatives such as the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which offers tax credits to individuals and businesses who support Catholic education. Since we cannot rely on government assistance, funding remains one of the greatest challenges to the continued flourishing of our Catholic schools.

Our Catholic schools have flourished because of the generous stewardship of families, religious women and men, priests and parishioners who, together, have made tremendous sacrifices to make Catholic schools available for their children, grandchildren and their neighbor’s children.

Increasingly, we are recognizing the importance of support from the business community as well. This will be the unique contribution of the Cristo Rey model when that school opens in the fall. Everyone benefits from Catholic schools. It always has been a shared commitment and a shared sacrifice.

The future depends on our ability to sustain this spirit of stewardship and partnership. We are benefitting from the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. And, we have to keep in mind those who will come after us. Parents of today’s Catholic school children cannot be left to shoulder the full cost of Catholic education alone. For most, it is simply too expensive. Whether or not we have children in Catholic schools, we all benefit from maintaining strong Catholic schools.

I hope you enjoy the insert in this issue which profiles our Catholic schools and how we are striving to keep them strong.